A courageous girl, Anne Frank, would’ve been 84 today.


Cover of "The Story of Anne Frank"

Cover of The Story of Anne Frank

Today I found out that it would’ve been Anne Frank’s 84th birthday. Being Jewish, I was always haunted by the story of Anne Frank.  You can read her story in “The Story of Anne Frank.”

Anne was a young, Jewish girl who was forced to hide away with her family in Amsterdam,Holland. It happened during the Holocaust during World War II. The family found a hiding place above a factory, and successfully hid there for several years. Tragically, someone turned them in, and were ultimately captured by the Nazis.

Anne’s father survived, and went back and found her diary. It was later published and has been read by thousands. Why am I giving out these details? I’m thinking less and fewer people know about this diary. They used to teach it in high schools, but I”m wondering how true that is today. Can the young people of today relate to the words written by a young girl in the 1940’s?

It’s more real to me because I am going to be 63 years old. When I was born in 1950, the War had only been over for five years. It seemed very real to me. When I found out about this tragedy, it upset me. To think people would kill others because of their religion. Since that time, I’ve read hundreds of books about it, and heard survivor’s talk about it. I’ve accepted it, but it still makes me very sad.

In the early 70’s, I took a trip to Amsterdam and got a chance to walk through the hiding place that is now a museum. The space was so small. I wondered how 3 families could have survived there for so long. I looked out the window at the very same tree Anne longingly looked at from her hiding place. I was touched by the pictures of American movie stars of the 40’s that she had taped on the wall.

In her diary Anne stated that “I still believe people are really good at heart.” One wonders if she still believed this by the time she died, and directly experienced such cruelty. How did she feel when she got off the train at the concentration camp and realized people were starving and broken? What did she think when she saw the stacks of the gas chambers that killed her peers, neighbors, loved ones, and fellow Jews? (It wasn’t only Jews that died.) This all happened in a civilized society too. It’s very frightening.

How tragic it was that someone with such insight and talent died so young. She was never to know that millions would read her words. If it was a fictional story, she would have survived. Sadly, it was a real story; perhaps, she went to a better place. Who knows?

The real tragedy is that people’s cruelty to each other hasn’t ended. It continues. It’s been going on since the beginning of time. Somehow, good does win over evil. It takes a while, but it seems to happen.

The best we can now do is think about Anne’s advice “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

How many have ever been to The Anne Frank House? How has her diary impacted you? Please share.

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American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarms :The story of Michelle Obama’s Ancestry


Photograph of Michelle Obama's paternal line g...

Photograph of Michelle Obama’s paternal line great-grandfather, Fraser Robinson, Sr. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American Tapestry by Rachel L. Swarns, is the story of First Lady, Michelle Obama’s ancestry. If you’re looking for a story about the First Lady’s life, you won’t find it in this book. What you will find is her family tree, and fascinating stories about her relatives.

The author, a New York Times reporter, did extensive research before writing this book. She used census records, photographs, oral histories, and interviews with many of Mrs. Obama’s relatives.

A genealogist, Megan Smolenyak had discovered a connection between a white slave owner, Henry Shields and Mrs. Obama’s great-great-great-grandmother, Melvina. Together they had a son, Dolphus. The author uncovered a funeral program of the son, Dolphus, and a photograph.

Swarns collaborated on an article about this discovery in the New York Times, and did further historical research to write this book.

The author follows four families in the South who eventually migrate to the North. From these families, comes Mrs. Obama’s great grandparents
.
A History Lesson

This is not an easy book to read. There are at least 30 characters to keep track of. Sometimes, you have to go back and reread their connections to each other, but if you persevere you uncover a fascinating story.

The book is in Three parts: Part I —Migration [to the North], Part II—The Demise of Reconstructions and the Rise of Jim Crow, Part III—Slavery and Emancipation.

Not only is it Mrs. Obama’s story, but the story of black people after the Civil war to the present day. Highlights include: black migration to the North, Reconstruction, sexual exploitation, lynchings, people being discouraged from voting, segregation, and passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1963. White and black people intermingle throughout the book.

The oral history was handed down in bits and pieces. Former slaves wanted to put the past behind them. The slavery experience was so painful and shameful that the first generation of freed slaves didn’t want to talk too much about it with their children.

Interesting characters

The author starts out with, Phoebe Moten Johnson, Mrs. Obama’s paternal great grandmother. She decides to escape her dull farm life, in Villa Ridge, Illinois, and gets on a train to seek her fortune. She ends up traveling to four different cities before she ends up in Chicago.

To tie the stories together, there is some speculation on the author’s part. This is about Phoebe:” “Swarns admits that “[n]one alive today knows the precise pace or number of stops that [Phoebe] made on her journey. There are gaps in her story, countless unknowns. …”

There are many other fascinating characters in this saga: Fraser Robinson, Sr., a man who accomplishes a lot even though he loses his arm after a tree falls on him when he’s a child. For a time, he moves in with a white family, friends of his father, and watches as black people lose rights they were granted after the Civil War.

Mrs. Obama’s relatives, like many African-Americans, migrated from the South to the North because there were more opportunities. They did a variety of jobs including: carpentry, coal mining, church ministry, household helpers, and railroad workers.

The author quotes Mrs. Obama’s aunt, Francesca Gray who states that in the black version of the American dream “ you dream a little bit at a time.” It is about black Americans striving toward the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness and property.

I would recommend this book because it gives an insightful look at what the black experience may have felt like after the Civil War to the present day. We learn how the American dream was accomplished by people at a clear disadvantage. Mrs. Obama’s family are the main characters in this book, but they represent the black experience in America for the past 150 years.

You can find this book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and on various websites.

God, If You’re Not up There, I’m F*cked : A Review: A story about Darrell Hammond


 

 

Comedian Darrell Hammond on stage.

Comedian Darrell Hammond on stage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Saturday Night Live (season 9)

Saturday Night Live (season 9) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked, opens up in a rehab facility in New York. The author, Darrell Hammond accurately describes how awful he feels. It’s a place where celebrities go to detox. It’s not the place you’d expect to find Hammond, a well-known comedian.

Hammond, is know for his masterful impersonations. If you’re a die-hard fan of Saturday Night Live, you’ve probably seen his lip-biting Bill Clinton, scowling Dick Cheney, hyper Chris Mathews and scores of other brilliant impressions.

While reading this book, you learn that being a drug addict and alcoholic is the least of Hammond’s problems. He’s been trying to figure out what’s wrong with him since he’s been 4 or 5 years old. After he hears his own child crying,  he starts having flashbacks to his frightening childhood.   It’s then that we learn about his abusive mother.

Inadvertently, she helped Hammond develop his talent. One of the things Mom liked to do was impressions of people in the neighborhood. Hammond joined right in with Mom to distract her.

Where was Hammond’s father?  Dad had his own quirks —including war post traumatic stress syndrome. Hammond and his dad share a love of baseball which brings them together.

Hammond manages to get away from his dysfunctional family and carve out a comic career for himself.

If you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live, you’ll enjoy this insider’s look at the show.

Hammond’s recovery is a work in progress, but by the end you’re cheering for him. This is a fast read, and inspirational. If you’re a little squeamish, it might not be for you.

 

Would you really want to live forever?


Today I  went to an interesting discussion class. One of the questions asked was:  “If it was possible, would you want to live forever?”

My answer, “yes, of course!” Some of the people thought there’d be too much pain involved with living into eternity. Let’s face it, no matter who you are, you’re going to get your fair share of disappointment and pain. On the other hand, you’re going to experience happiness too.

One of my beliefs is that when you are gone, that’s it. Lights out.  I don’t really believe in souls floating or going to a “better place.” I just think you cease to exist. I don’t remember the world before I was born, so I figure I won’t know about it after I’m gone.

i do like to entertain the possibility that maybe I’m wrong. Now, that would be a pleasant surprise, and I’ll be happy if I’m wrong.

I’m not afraid of dying because I know it’s part of the cycle.

There is a pre-teen book, Tuck Everlasting, which address this very issue. It’s for older kids and is excellent. It shows kids that living forever would get tiresome. Maybe so?

So, my question is this? If you had the chance, would you want to live forever?

Why or why not?

“Barack Obama The Story” by David Maraniss: A Review


Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want to understand where Barack Obama might be coming from read this unauthorized biography by David Maraniss. The author has good credentials. He won a Pulitzer prize  for a series of stories he wrote about Clinton, and works at the Washington Post.

If you don’t like detailed histories, this book is not for you. The author gives you plenty of history. (Maybe, more than you want or need to know.)

President Obama’s Family History

The book studies President Obama’s background in-depth.  It takes you all the way from his great grandparents on both sides.  It’s a parallel story taking place in Midwest Kansas  and Kenya, Africa. Maraniss  described everything: people, places and geography.

The author begins the story in 1926 in Kansas with the suicide of Obama’s great grandmother, Ruth, at age 26.

“From the time of their mother’s death [Obama’s  grandfather and great-uncle] through the rest of their school days, they lived with their maternal grandparents in El Dorado, setting a generational pattern that would be repeated a half century later,” writes Maraniss.

In the next chapter Maraniss goes into the Kenyan side, starting with Obama’s  grandfather and grandmother. He shows that there is sharpness and intellect on both branches of Obama’s family. There is adventure,  and daring on both sides too.

President Obama’s Background

We don’t even hear about  President Obama until Chapter 5. His mother, repeats the family pattern. She falls in love with his Kenyan father while attending the University of Hawaii. (He is attending the university because of an exchange program), becomes pregnant, marries the first Obama,  and divorced him when President Obama was 2 years old. (She was unaware that he already had a Kenyan wife and child.)

We learn all about the first Barack Obama, [President Obama’s father], a man with great promise, brilliance, and charisma. Unfortunately, he also has a drinking problem that proves to be his downfall.

We get to know President Obama’s mother— Ann Dunham—an anthropologist and dedicated mother—who leaves Obama in the care of his grandparents at different times in his life. This couldn’t have made him feel too secure.

President Obama only spends a month with his biological father in 1971. They do correspond over the years, and his mother makes sure he identifies with his African background.

Years after her first divorce, his mother remarries, this time to an Indonesian man.  They live in Indonesia for several years, and welcome President Obama’s sister, Maya, into the family.  After the marriage falls apart, she and Maya stay in Indonesia where Ann worked as an anthropologist.

President Obama is sent back to Hawaii to attend a prep school. He is granted admittance into  the school because his grandfather has connections. (Later, Maya, attends the same school.)

It’s not until he goes to high school, that he earnestly begins exploring his black background. He finds a place in high school by playing basketball, and being a good student.

A defining moment of confusion in his life occurs when he overhears his grandmother telling his grandfather she is nervous about a black man at her bus stop.

“Leaving and being left were the repeating themes of “Barry Obama’s [President Obama’s] young life. ..his mother leaving his family. His father leaving the family….All in the continuum of the family history,” writes Maraniss.

All the while, Obama, is portrayed by others who knew him as very smart, affable, and responsible.  He is repeatedly described as being cautious. The book takes us up to the time he enters Harvard Law School.

The book also covers his undergraduate college years. ( Yes, he did smoke some marijuana and inhaled.) It also describes his work as a community organizer in Chicago.  There are a few girlfriends here and there too. (There isn’t anything about the First Lady).

If you don’t want to read such a complex book, I suggest you read Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father.

Book review: Both Of Us (The story of Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett) F+


Farrah Fawcett Poster (Charlie's Angels)

Farrah Fawcett Poster (Charlie’s Angels) (Photo credit: Hobo!)

Ryan O’Neal has written a book about his love affair with the late Farrah Fawcett,  Both of Us. Maybe these two deserved each other. I’m not sure. At least Farrah could act.  Ryan is a terrific excuse maker.

According to O’Neal , he came from a nice family with stable parents. That just goes to show you that you can’t  always blame your bad choices on your terrible childhood.

He stole Farrah from Lee Majors, one of O’Neal’s good friends. Majors told O’Neal to take care of her while he was off making a movie.  That makes you think Majors was dumber than a box of rocks, and got what he deserved.

O’Neal  has 4 children from 2 different wives: Three of his four children—Griffin, Tatum and Redmond — have addiction problems. He also seems to have an odd relationship with his daughter, Tatum. He briefly discusses it. “First I save her [from her drug addicted mother] made her my whole world,  and then I pushed her out.” said O’Neal.

He also states that he has one child who is relatively normal, Patrick O’Neal. He is a successful sportscaster.  I guess his mother, Leigh Taylor Young, overcame O’Neal’s  parenting style.

Ryan skips over the fact that he was Redmond’s—his only child with Fawcett—main caretaker while Farrah was developing her acting chops. He talks about a conflict with Farrah on how to raise Redmond.  Whatever they both did, didn’t do this kid any good. He is constantly in rehab and jail.

He blames Redmond’s drug addiction on his son, Griffin, who was a rehab veteran by his early teens.   Maybe he should’ve considered keeping Griffin away from him?

What makes O’Neal more unbelievable is that he does not once mention he has any type of addiction problem. He does mention that his first wife, Joanna Moore, had a serious problem. He blames her genes for messing up their two children together.

O’Neal  comes off as an innocent bystander in his life’s travails. I didn’t sense that he takes any responsibility for anything that went wrong in his life. Apparently, he does believe  what he said in the movie, Love Story. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

One of his early accomplishments was dabbling in amateur boxing. He has used this skill on his own son Griffin, when he innocently knocked out his front teeth in a fight. It was all Griffin’s fault.  .

He paints Farrah as a person who was outside of all the drug shenanigans going on. The only honest thing he does say is that he misses her. I do think he loved her the best he could.

It doesn’t seem fair that this guy lives like a king in Malibu because he made several movies that hit it big, and made some good investments.  If anyone doesn’t need time on his hands, and big bucks it’s Ryan O’Neal.

To my credit, I didn’t buy the book, I borrowed it from the library. I’d hate to make him any more money. I wouldn’t recommend it. I  just gave you the crux of the whole thing.

I would say you can find a more interesting story in “People Magazine”. I give it a F+. (At least I believe he loved her, and the pictures are nice to look at.)  Although it had two writers plus O’Neal, the book is just like O’Neal— shallow.

Ryan O'Neal

Ryan O’Neal (Photo credit: Project M·A·R·C)

You’re never too old to find a passion in life. Writing brings me joy!


Cover of "Immediate Fiction: A Complete W...

Cover via Amazon

A couple of years ago, I was reading an essay a friend of mine wrote for a well-known newspaper.

I thought, “i can do that.” I went home, pulled out an old story I wrote; I polished it up and sent it to The New Standardhttp//www.thenewstandardonline.com.

I was thrilled when the editor decided to put my piece on the front page. I’ve been writing for them ever since.

I’ve attended writer’s conferences, taken online classes, read about writing, and practiced my craft every day. I consider blogging another way, to practice my craft.

One of the books that really helped me write non-fiction is called  A Writers Guide to Nonfiction by Elizabeth Lyon. The book turned into my Bible. I will still open it up, and refer to it. It gave me different options that I found useful. .

Now, I’m exploring fiction and a book I’ve found helpful is Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver.

One thing I immediately liked was Cleaver’s suggestion that any method you use to get where you’re going in your story works. In real life I’m not much of a planner, so when I sit down to write this story, it just comes together on the paper.

Cleaver says that’s okay.  Do whatever works for you. We’re so brainwashed in school, that we figure you have to do things “correctly.” I like it when people say, there’s no correct way to do anything. Like it says, in the old Nike commercial, “just do it.”

Cleaver also talks about conflict, action, and resolution.  In a fictional story, if everything is happy, you have  no story. Okay, this is basic, but for a beginning fiction writer like me that’s helpful to get it drummed into my head. He also demonstrates how to show more than tell. That might be an old piece of advice, but still valuable.

Cleaver describes conflict in terms I can understand.

“Someone is faced with a problem (conflict), he must struggle with (action) and he wins or loses (resolution), writes Cleaver.  He also discusses at length how to get the reader to identify with the character, and how to get the characters to show emotion.

There’s a lot of great advice in this book. I only scratched the surface.

If you’re interested in fictional writing I would highly recommend this book. Especially, if you’re the type of person who likes to do things their own way!

Don’t be afraid to follow your passion

Don’t be afraid to follow your passion. So, what if you don’t become rich and famous? It helps you grow. If doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 65. Old passions are easy to reignite.

What I’ve liked the most about the writing experience are the other people I’ve met through writer’s groups, conferences and even online classes.

Don’t limit yourself because you are afraid of what others think.

When you get right down to it, nobody is sitting around judging you. I think we’ve all been judged so much, especially during our school years, that we can’t get out of that way of thinking.

The one person you have to please is yourself.

Since I first started intensely following my passion,  I’ve been doing everything I can, to improve my skill.

I have some fictional pieces on http://www.fictionwritersplatform.net, and one piece published in “The Granville Magazine.” “The Columbus Dispatch” also published a piece I did. I still religiously write for “The New Standard.” I’ve only missed one edition.

I was shocked at how easily I could think up topics. No problem. I’ve read tons of books on writing, and I want to share one with you

IMy question: What is your passion, and how have you grown? If you are a writer, do you have any other recommendations for exploring Fiction Writing.